CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews

31.10.19

Dip Your Ears, No. 257 (Rattle's Bavarian Lied von der Erde)

available at Amazon
Gustav Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde
Simon Rattle/Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/
Magdalena Kožená (mezzo), Stuart Skelton (tenor)
(BR Klassik)

There’s a reason to eye musical nepotism critically. Mediocrity rears its head when relatives – usually spouses – ride on the coattails of their more talented counterparts. Just think Garanča/Chichon, Netrebko/Eyvazov, or Zukerman/Forsyth. Even at the more exalted and mutual levels of talent, a critical stance is merited: Much is great, but hardly all. Even the best of them – Britten /Pears, Fischer-Dieskau/Varady, Vishnevskaya/Rostropovich – had their off-moments. And with conductors generally aging better than singers, the same caution is warranted when Simon Rattle and Magdalena Kožená are sold to us as a package.

Happily, this BR Klassik release of the couple’s Das Lied von der Erde stands up to scrutiny – and then some! The river-like clarity of the BR Symphony Orchestra is not of a cold, but elegant, perfection. Every instrument can be heard and every one of them is a joy to listen to. Any number of examples might underscore this, but just try the woodwinds in the opening of “Von der Jugend” for size. Rattle leads with zaftig grace and leaves no ostentatious fingerprints on the score. Kožená is not the first mezzo to sing these songs beautifully, but she really throws herself into it, in all her autumnal glory, dramatic, generous and clear, with warmth and intensity, never swooping and with splendid handling of the text. No hints of an aging voice here, as I’ve encountered on some live occasions.

But of course every Lied von der Erde stands or falls with the contribution of the ‘high’ voice’s part, the tenor. It’s the downfall of many otherwise splendid accounts when those admittedly difficult and much less grateful parts are croaked or wailed or underpowered. Meet Australian heldentenor Stuart Skelton, who actually approximates Kožená in the sonorous warmth of his portrayal, even if he does not match her handling of the text. Without following the libretto it’s occasionally a bit of a guessing game what he is singing about, but in fairness, most native speakers aren’t much better. It’s a minor caveat, given the quality of the whole package here, which amounts to nothing less than one of the finest and best-sounding modern recordings of Mahler’s de-fact Ninth Symphony.

Or is it? Over at ClassicsToday, you’ll find a very, very different, almost diametrically opposed #CDFromHell review of this release, which doesn’t agree with any of the above. Obviously, it sent me scurrying back to this recording, wondering if I had been deceived by headphone-listening or drunkenness. Not from what I can tell. The singers are prominently recorded, yes, which was more notable via speakers, but nothing worrisome. That said, we certainly agree on the reference versions… which you can read more about in the Lied-chapter of the ionarts-Mahler Survey.

9/9












21.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Víkingur Ólafsson's Bach With Heart and Panache

Icelandic Bach With Heart and Panache

by Jens F. Laurson
olafssonbach
It has been 13 years since the Alexandre Tharaud Bach recital “concertos italiens” came out. It’s taken that long for any Bach-on-piano recital disc to come even close to that recording-for-the-ages. By way of clever selection of works—staples of transcribed Bach with original Bach and... Continue Reading [Insider content]





P.S. Víkingur Ólafsson on ionarts & Forbes.com:

Viking(s) and Beethoven (2005)
Víkingur Ólafsson, Easy Listening (2013)
Classical CD Of The Week: Víkingur Heiðar Ólafsson; Through The Piano Glass

19.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Jóhann Jóhannsson - 12 Conversations With Thilo Heinzmann

CD From the Elevator to Hell: 12 Conversations With Thilo Heinzmann

by Jens F. Laurson
BACH_12-Conversations_Johannsson_DG_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic
12 Conversations with Thilo Heinzmann, a new release from Deutsche Grammophon, is best listened to on vinyl (it’s available in that format!) in a fashionable, faux-derelict loft apartment in Soho, London, or Berlin. Thick beard, suspenders, horn rimmed glasses, woolen west and ironic T-shirt, and pork pie hat optional – but recommended... Continue Reading 


18.10.19

My Uncle, Harpsichordist: Session 006 (Jean Françaix)


I grew up with the records of my uncle’s (him performing, that is)—most memorably Scarlatti sonatas and some baroque sonatas for harpsichord and recorder. A few years ago I stumbled across a stack of copied CDs—taken from those out-of-print LPs and home-recordings—and grabbed them for memory’s sake. To my great intrigue, I found several discs devoted to works from the 20th century… which made me realize what a pity it is that I never talked about music with my uncle.

It might just be of interest to present the tracks of these recordings here, as a little personal musical (living) memorial. He was, after all, a formative person in my life, impressing on a kid of five, six, seven years the joys of collecting and tasting wine, eating and enjoying mushrooms and zucchini (garlic was the key to my palate then and it still is), and… Scarlatti.

Here’s track №.6:




Jean Françaix (1912-1997), L’insectarium pour Cembalo: Les Fourmis | Die Ameisen | Ants (2:20)
Performance by Detlef Goetz-Laurson, 1980



Score: Schott
Commercial Recording: N/A (Apart from an OOP 7-inch single by Marga Scheurich)
Premiered in 1957, by Wanda Landowska.

17.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Henri Marteau’s Intriguing Works for String Quartet on CPO

Major Discovery: Henri Marteau’s Intriguing Works for String Quartet

by Jens F. Laurson
MARTEAU_Works-for-string-quartet-v1_CPO_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic
Henri Marteau was born in 1874 in Reims. His career as a violinist–where he made something of a name for himself, especially as an interpreter of Reger–took him all across Europe, although he eventually settled in Lichtenberg, Germany, in the northeastern part of Bavaria. As World War I ... Continue Reading

16.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Rusalka at Theater an der Wien (Review & Production Photos)


Between Thursday, September 19th and September 30th, the Theater and der Wien put on Rusalka, conducted by David Afkham and directed by Amélie Niermeyer. The ClassicsToday review is (finally) up.Production Details on the TadW's website.

ClassicsToday: Rusalka Gets Wet Feet In Vienna



More pictures from the production below.

Ionarts-at-Large: The 2018 Pärnu Music Festival

Pärnu Music Festival


Paavo Järvi & EFO At Pärnu Music Festival 2018 – © IMZ Media


In sunny-summery Pärnu, on Estonia’s south western coast, it is possible to wade through the Baltic Sea one moment, and thirty minutes later sit in the concert hall with sand still between your toes, and enough time left to crane your neck to get a better look at Estonia’s Who’s-Who, all present among the audience assuming they aren’t conducting the concert in question. In this case, on August 8th, at the Estonian Festival Orchestra’s concert under Paavo Järvi, those included Neeme Järvi, paterfamilias of the conducting clan, Arvo Pärt (at a sprightly 82 years still hopping – well, clambering – up the stage after his Third Symphony), and the splendid Erkki-Sven Tüür.[1] Also present: the slightly less well known Jüri Reinvere, whose And tired from Happiness… (“Und müde vom Glück”) received its premiere, and Tõnu Kõrvits, who was handed the Lepo Sumera Award for Composition before Järvi gave that night’s first upbeat at Pärnu Concert Hall.

Said hall has a pill-shaped layout, slightly raked orchestra seating and a balcony that goes 370° round all the way – except for a spot stage-right, where two immense 20-foot doors loom over the orchestra. Judging from a third back among the orchestra seats, it has a fine, accurate acoustic, not conducive to loud volumes and a little on the dry side. That proved a good environment to hear finely articulated strings and the clear woodwinds in Arvo Pärt’s Third Symphony, “his most popular to date, [which] makes a charismatic point of [the composer’s] then-newly won melodiously religious sentiment by quoting Gregorian chant amid all the other well-known Pärt contraptions”[2]. It also made the music appear as blocks of music (somewhere between Gabrieli and Bruckner), only reasonably seamlessly fused to form a gratifying whole. Strangely dampened, the Symphony ended up very much a low-octane affair for a concert opener.

The contrast was made more overt by Jüri Reinvere’s wham-bam And tired from Happiness… that opened the second half. The stage filled up to the brim with musicians, instigating the immediate thought: ‘Good luck getting that performed again!’ Then again, he may be onto something: Subsidized orchestra-musicians all over Europe need to work to satisfy the politicians that judge an orchestra’s success by how efficiently the total amount of players were used throughout the year. Never mind that this amounts to a penalty on performing Haydn and Mozart or anything else benefiting from a smaller ensemble – and skews the game in favor of the big romantics and beyond. If you have a harp and tuba and contra-bassoonist on your payroll, you have better use ‘em! Well, Jüri Reinvere does.

Pretty neatly, too: The faintly Wagner-ish “Schatten im Spiegel” movement glides and swells along pleasantly, fully harmonic (you’d scarcely expect anything else from an Estonian composer these days), with transitions that veered between Brucknerian and awkward. The long rising accumulative energy generated the thrill that the Pärt had denied. The mildly pretentious German movement titles can’t distract from that. The clusters are harmless. The string pizzicatos, accentuated by the [continue reading]

15.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Reference Set of Bach Multiple Keyboard Concertos on Alpha

Koroliov’s Multiple-Keyboard Concerto Reference Recording

by Jens F. Laurson
BACH_10-Keyboard-Concertos-Koroliov_Potsdam_ALPHA_ClassicalCritic_ClassicsToday
Every so often the state of Bach’s keyboard concertos—BWV 1052 through 1065—deserves a brief recap: The first six, for cembalo and orchestra, have in common that they were conceived as a set and that they are—like all the rest—transcriptions of earlier concertos (not all of which have surv... Continue Reading

14.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Filling In The Gaps: Dukas’ Marvelous Ariane With Gary Bertini

Filling In The Gaps: Dukas’ Marvelous Ariane With Gary Bertini

by Jens F. Laurson
DUKAS_Ariane-et-barbe-bleue_Bertini_CAPRICCIO_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic
If you think of Paul Dukas as a Mickey-Mouse composer, think again. He may be forever associated with a famous musical rodent through Disney’s depiction of his tone poem on Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the film Fantasia. But there’s a good deal more to Dukas, even though he abandoned an... Continue Reading [Insider content]





12.10.19

My Uncle, Harpsichordist: Session 005 (Jean Françaix)


I grew up with the records of my uncle’s (him performing, that is)—most memorably Scarlatti sonatas and some baroque sonatas for harpsichord and recorder. A few years ago I stumbled across a stack of copied CDs—taken from those out-of-print LPs and home-recordings—and grabbed them for memory’s sake. To my great intrigue, I found several discs devoted to works from the 20th century… which made me realize what a pity it is that I never talked about music with my uncle.

It might just be of interest to present the tracks of these recordings here, as a little personal musical (living) memorial. He was, after all, a formative person in my life, impressing on a kid of five, six, seven years the joys of collecting and tasting wine, eating and enjoying mushrooms and zucchini (garlic was the key to my palate then and it still is), and… Scarlatti.

Here’s track №.5:




Jean Françaix (1912-1997), L’insectarium pour Cembalo: Le Scarabée | Der Skarabäus | The Stag Beetle (2:06)
Performance by Detlef Goetz-Laurson, 1980



Score: Schott
Commercial Recording: N/A (Apart from an OOP 7-inch single by Marga Scheurich)
Premiered in 1957, by Wanda Landowska.

11.10.19

On ClassicsToday: BR Chorus in Handel’s Glorious Occasional Oratorio

Filling In The Gaps: Handel’s Glorious Occasional Oratorio

by Jens F. Laurson
Handel_Occasional-Oratorio_BR-KLASSIK_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic
George Frideric Handel’s Occasional Oratorio—essentially a pastiche cantata—was meant to buck up the London crowds (and curry political favor) as England was facing a war of succession from Jacobite Charles Edward Stuart. The work presents us with a conundrum: Those for whom having the fringe ... Continue Reading [Insider content]





10.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Parsifal With a Side of Banana Oil from Bernhard Lang

CD From Hell: Bernhard Lang Fools With Parsifal

by Jens F. Laurson
Bernhard-LANG_PARZEFOOL_KAIROS_ClassicalCritic_ClassicsToday
The idea of re-writing and reinterpreting extant works to make them appear in new guise is a well-worn one in contemporary music. For years, the tool of (ostentatiously ironic) quotation was the only “out” for composers to squeeze any beauty or conventional harmony into their works. It o... Continue Reading [Insider content]





9.10.19

St. Petersburg's 'Paquita' makes U.S. debut at Kennedy Center


Paquita, Mariinsky Ballet (Photo: Darian Volkova/ State Academic Mariinsky Theater)

Paquita was the first ballet that Marius Petipa adapted from a French source when he arrived in St. Petersburg. Hardly a surprise, then, that it is not a great work. The Mariinsky Ballet's new adaptation of the ballet, which opened Tuesday night in the Kennedy Center Opera House, is one of the few productions from this esteemed company that you can pass on seeing. A rather long night in the theater, it made one understand why Paquita disappeared from the repertory, except for a few "bleeding chunks" like the Pas de trois and the Grand Pas and divertissement, the latter performed on its own by the Mariinsky in 2015.

The ballet was first created in Paris, with music by Édouard Deldevez, before being expanded into its better-known form by Marius Petipa in St. Petersburg. As was the usual practice, Petipa augmented the work over the years with new music by Ludwig Minkus and some pieces stolen from other composers. Other companies and directors have been trying to revive Paquita in recent years, too, including a restoration from the Stepanov notation by Alexei Ratmansky in Munich and an adaptation by Pierre Lacotte in Paris.

This production, premiered at the Mariinsky in 2017, is mostly new. Rather than reconstructing Petipa's work, Yuri Smekalov has created a new libretto and new choreography, using a reordering and reorchestration of the music. That new work has been grafted on to Yuri Burlaka's painstaking restoration of the Grand Pas, which constitutes most of the third act. The story remains basically the same, concerning a noble girl stolen away by gypsies. She falls in love with an officer who gives up his commission to live among the gypsies, a sort of variation on the story of Bizet's Carmen twenty-five years later.


Other Reviews:

Sarah L. Kaufman, Mariinsky Ballet’s ‘Paquita’: Glittering dancing but a skimpy story (Washington Post, October 9, 2019)
The result is dramatically inert, mostly a series of rather empty pantomime scenes. In particular, the ending of the second act was curiously anti-climactic. The scenic design (Andrei Svebo) and costuming (Elena Zaitseva) are both handsome, including a humorous use of moving shrub trees during one transition. Most of the music, played ably by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra under the baton of the Mariinsky's Gavriel Heine, is not worth a second listen. Some of the more elaborate variations, including extensive solos for violin, flute, and harp (many times), created appropriately dreamy moods in solo dances.

The main reason to see Paquita is for the company's dancers. In the title role is Viktoria Tereshkina, in many ways a cold, steely ballerina (last seen in 2017) who has warmed considerably in this character. Her technique was impeccable, handsome lines and poise that gave her exceptional confidence. Even better in some ways was the Andres of Timur Askerov, a tall, elegant partner for the long-limbed Tereshkina. The Grand Pas of the third act features mostly lower-rung dancers: best among them was Yekaterina Chebykina, also featured to flattering effect as the third wheel in the Pas de trois of the second act.

Paquita runs through October 13 at the Kennedy Center Opera House.

Dip Your Ears, No. 256 (Gabriela Montero’s Latin Concerto)

available at Amazon
M.Ravel / G.Montero, Piano Concertos
Gabriela Montero / Carlos Miguel Prieto / The Orchestra of the Americas
Orchid Classics

After dipping her toes into the composing waters with her tone-poem for piano and orchestra Ex Patria op.1, Gabriela Montero has now written a full scale piano concerto. While Ex Patria was an emotional plea about the plight of Venezuela, the concerto is intended as a call to consider a more realistic, somber view of Latin America. She wants the world to understand that, while South America is a continent that’s known for its rhythms, flavors, for its spirit, for its humor, and for having a spirit that somehow is able to overcome or transcend the difficulties and extremes of our daily experience, there’s also a darker side to it: Shadows that threaten the countries’ and people’s development and prosperity.

You can question whether any of that specifically comes across in concert or on disc, without reading her liner notes or hearing her speak about it. In fact, that’s almost certain not to be the case. But the idea that in the rhythms, melodies and the vibrancy of the work is embedded a message about the darker aspects of South American nature does seem to come through as a tempering quality. There is a specifically “Latin” cliché in classical music. Roberto Sierra’s Missa Latina, Oslvado Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos, or Ariel Ramírez’s Navidad Nuestra and his Misa Criolla are only some examples that are full of it. The separating line between tackiness and vibrancy is fairly thin. Fall down just an inch on the wrong side and a composition will sound as though Speedy Gonzales had got a hold of the Maracas.

Montero’s bitter-sweet piece avoids that trap. Anyone familiar with South American music might notice the El pajarillo (a quintessentially Venzuelan type of dance modelled after the “Joropo llanero”). But the music does not exude a happy-go-lucky dancing vibe. The mambo of the eponymous first movement has a dark undercurrent running through it: A bit of Varese; a bit of urban ‘mechanique’. The fun is measured. The air is rather mature, the structure simple but touching, and the content never banal. It’s an extremely likable work that doesn’t dumb it down much.

The Ravel concerto, by all means given a good performance, aided and abetted by Carlos Miguel Prieto and The Orchestra of the Americas, is a fine companion piece. A courageous one, too, because the very greatness of it might have been considered a risk lest it overshadow the ‘Latin’ Concerto or even expose it as something much lesser. It goes to the great credit of the former that it doesn’t do that. But let’s face it: that’s not the work most people would buy this disc for. At least not when they have Zimerman/Boulez or any other Reference Quality recording on their shelves already.

8/8







8.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Checking Out The Budapest Orchestral Scene Part III

Jenő Koppándi & Zsolt Hamar


For my ongoing survey of Budapest’s orchestral scene, I picked out an all-Bartók evening with the Hungarian National Philharmonic after having heard a great Concerto Budapest concert and the Hungarian RSO in the Ring. The National Philharmonic came to (Western) fame under its longtime director János Ferencsik and again when it was led for two decades by Zoltán Kocsis until the latter’s death in 2016. The ambitious bill on this season-opening night included the Two Portraits Op. 5, the Third Piano Concerto, and Bluebeard’s Castle for the main course. Fab stuff, mosty:

All-Bartók Season-Opener With The Hungarian National Philharmonic


Below are a few photos from the concert to go with that review.





5.10.19

My Uncle, Harpsichordist: Session 004 (Jean Françaix)


I grew up with the records of my uncle’s (him performing, that is)—most memorably Scarlatti sonatas and some baroque sonatas for harpsichord and recorder. A few years ago I stumbled across a stack of copied CDs—taken from those out-of-print LPs and home-recordings—and grabbed them for memory’s sake. To my great intrigue, I found several discs devoted to works from the 20th century… which made me realize what a pity it is that I never talked about music with my uncle.

It might just be of interest to present the tracks of these recordings here, as a little personal musical (living) memorial. He was, after all, a formative person in my life, impressing on a kid of five, six, seven years the joys of collecting and tasting wine, eating and enjoying mushrooms and zucchini (garlic was the key to my palate then and it still is), and… Scarlatti.

Here’s track №.4:




Jean Françaix (1912-1997), L’insectarium pour Cembalo: Les Talitres | Die Meerflöhe | Sand Hoppers (1:05)
Performance by Detlef Goetz-Laurson, 1980



Score: Schott
Commercial Recording: N/A (Apart from an OOP 7-inch single by Marga Scheurich)
Premiered in 1957, by Wanda Landowska.